Cafe Habana, the controversial proposal to renovate two properties on the edge of the French Quarter into a Cuban restaurant, will once again go to the full Vieux Carre Commission for approval after winning another round of approval Tuesday from the commission’s Architectural Committee.
The committee’s vote was unanimous and in line with its staff’s recommendation, despite continued protests from some French Quarter residents who question the proposed restaurant’s size and say it is not in keeping with the historic character of the neighborhood.
Residents lodged those complaints again Tuesday despite an apparent attempt by the developer to address their concerns.
Sean Meenan, who owns the properties — an old service station at the corner of North Rampart Street and Esplanade Avenue and a building at 1036 Esplanade — has scrapped a plan to use the building’s second floor for dining space.
In October, Cafe Habana’s plan called for a restaurant with dining on the first and second floors of the building, as well as under and on top of the former service station’s canopy.
The most recent plan does not include use of the second floor, which was slated to hold 42 diners. The restaurant now has a projected occupancy of 183 people.
Critics, however, said they still had concerns about how many people ultimately could gather at the restaurant because the state fire marshal places no restrictions on outdoor space. Capacity has been one of many points of contention in Meenan’s attempts to develop the site.
The critics reiterated that the eatery would be too big and not in keeping with the style and character of the French Quarter.
“He and his supporters have parroted an argument that anything at this location is better than nothing at all, and nothing could be further from the truth,” said Susan Guillot, of the group French Quarter Citizens. “A strip joint would not be better at this location. A chicken rendering plant would not be better at this location. (Champions) Square would not be better at this location. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He is opening an event venue that will ruin the neighborhood.”
This is Meenan’s second attempt to win approval for a restaurant at the site. He withdrew a similar, but larger, project from consideration last year after facing unrelenting opposition from some neighbors.
The project will be considered by the full Vieux Carre Commission in January. The commission may vote to approve the project at that meeting, but it may also decide to require changes to the design. The full commission already has given the project “conceptual” and “design development” approval, the first two of several steps in the process of getting permission to make changes to a building in the city’s oldest neighborhood.
The Architectural Committee instructed Meenan and his architects to submit information on the restaurant’s hours, menu and sign design before the project is heard by the full commission.